Expert Opinion

What is employee engagement and are you emotionally engaged?

Dean Horsman, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at Leeds Beckett University and current Doctor of Business Administration student, recently presented a successful workshop at the 2015 CIPD Northern Area Conference at York Racecourse. The workshop was entitled ‘Leader Emotional Engagement, Intelligence and Development’. In this post, Dean explains the concept of employee engagement and why he feels it is so important.
The real purpose and question to you and I then is this…  What are the things that engage us emotionally, cognitively and socially?

My interest is mainly at work but also at home; with family and friends, pursuing the arts, books, film, hobbies, music, pastimes, sport, theatre, walks.  How many of us leave the ‘real’ me at home when we go to work and wonder why we may feel stressed, under pressure, unhappy in the drudgery of our ‘things to do’ list and the boss who doesn’t seem to care?

Tom Peters in his book “The Pursuit of WOW” (1994) recognised that there was a huge potential reserve of energy and commitment in organisations which could be released by making ‘meaning for people’ and highlighted the fact that people desperately need meaning in their lives and will sacrifice a great deal to institutions that will provide this meaning for them.

According to Cartwright and Holmes (2006, p.206) “As individuals become increasingly disenchanted and disillusioned with work and fatigued by the constant demand to change and to be flexible in response to organisational needs, employers now need to actively restore the balance, recognise the meaning and emotional aspects of work and move towards creating a more energized, fulfilled and engaged workforce.”

As part of my Doctoral studies, I am interested in the distinction between the emotional, cognitive and social paths along which people personally engage and disengage at work.

For me, “Employee Engagement is an employee’s positive emotional attachment to their job and/or colleagues and/or organization which profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform at work.”©   Dean Horsman (2012).

Kahn (1990, p.694) defined ‘personal engagement’ as “the harnessing of organization members’ selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances.”  Emotions are, therefore, a central element of the notion of self and are strongly linked to motivation, behaviour, happiness and psychological good health.

Recent interest in the role of emotions and ‘affect’ at work has highlighted that how people feel about themselves, about their work, and others around them may also be important to their work performance (Cartwright and Holmes, 2006).  Furthermore, there is a social dimension to work, where people who are seeking meaning in life also want meaning at work – people want to be happy, feel passionate and energised at work.

For Maslach and Leiter (2005), energy is the outcome of positive employee engagement.  Truss et al. (2012) and the CIPD (2013) defined employee engagement “as being positively present during the performance of work willingly contributing intellectual effort, experiencing positive emotions and meaningful connections to others.”

According to Cross et al. (2003) organisations benefit from positive dynamics and an energised workforce because employees work well together, relationships are supportive, inspiring and information is freely shared.  Herriot (2001) suggests that emotions are an extremely important element in the formation and expression of self.  As emotions are dependent and activated by social relationships, it is my view (and I’m not alone in this) that the social dimension of work should be given greater acknowledgement (it’s not rocket science!); as should our managers and leaders.

If you don’t believe me, check out Gemma Reucroft, either through social media or even better, in person.

You can find out more about Dean’s workshop and research by following the Twitter hashtag #emotionalengagement and through his blog, HRsoliloquy. You can also follow him at @dphorsman or on Linkedin.

Dean Horsman

Senior Lecturer / Leeds Business School

Dean Horsman is a Senior Lecturer in HRM/HRD, Leadership, Employee Engagement and Employment Relations. He is an active Corporate and Executive Coach and former Client Manager for the National NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme through the NHS Leadership Academy.